U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy is calling on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to investigate what he described as “very serious and apparently well-documented accusations of wrongdoing” by FEMA’s Louisiana Recovery Office.
Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, said in a letter to FEMA that the allegations concern the Louisiana Recovery Office’s denial of payment of $46.1 million in waterway cleanup costs for Livingston Parish after Hurricane Gustav struck in 2008. FEMA paid nothing on bills for work designed to prevent future flooding by cleaning drainage canals of fallen debris caused by the hurricane.
“The parish has documented scores of examples of flooding from streams that the LRO claimed would not flood, even if choked with debris,” Cassidy’s letter states. “In light of this evidence, the LRO’s conclusion that none of the streams anywhere in the parish presented a flood risk seems illogical.”
Cassidy also said it doesn’t seem fair for FEMA to deny payment for work on the basis that the parish didn’t obtain permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, when permits might not even have been required to do the majority of the cleanup.
“This is especially the case when FEMA itself apparently contributed heavily to the current situation — and may have been the primary cause,” Cassidy’s letter states.
The congressman said he has listened to the recording of a FEMA representative telling parish officials, “The corps has nothing to do with this.”
The FEMA representative “knowingly allowed the parish to continue under the misapprehension that the parish did not need to involve the corps — a misunderstanding that the parish says actually originated with advice from FEMA.”
Evidence suggests the decision by FEMA’s Louisiana office to deny payment to the parish was made before the office had thoroughly examined the facts, Cassidy said, adding that the office supported the denial using “questionable documentation.”
“It also appears to me that a detailed investigation into the activities of the Louisiana Recovery Office by FEMA itself, or perhaps another agency with oversight, is in order,” Cassidy wrote.
“FEMA has received the letter from Rep. Cassidy, and we are in the process of responding,” FEMA press secretary Dan Watson said Monday.
“The second appeal for Livingston Parish remains under review.”
Contractors for the parish submitted about $63 million in bills as part of the Gustav cleanup, but FEMA has paid only a small portion of those, according to Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks, who has pushed to continue the appeal of the agency’s denial of payment.
The general contractor, International Equipment Distributors, has sued the parish for $53 million in unpaid bills.
The appeal by Livingston Parish “is extraordinarily important to me and to my constituents,” Cassidy said in the Oct. 18 letter to Tod Wells, deputy director of FEMA’s Public Assistance Division.
“I urge you to seriously consider the evidence and arguments presented by the parish and to do everything legally possible to provide funding for these costs that the parish incurred at FEMA’s urging and under FEMA’s oversight.”